Skip to main content

Canada 150 Protesters rally for Indigenous rights as country gears up for Canada 150

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves a Teepee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday. Trudeau had a brief meeting this morning with indigenous activists who have set up a demonstration tepee on Parliament Hill ahead of Canada Day celebrations.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

According to the official schedule, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, should have been heading to final rehearsals for the finely tuned Canada Day show on Parliament Hill.

Instead, they cut straight for the tepee that was hastily installed by protesters right next to the main stage, and which now serves as a reminder that not everything can be neatly planned ahead of time in a country such as Canada.

In a video filmed inside the tepee and posted on Facebook, Mr. Trudeau told protesters their impromptu discussion symbolized the inherent difficulties of creating "nation-to-nation" discussions and getting out of "colonial structures."

Story continues below advertisement

Elizabeth Renzetti: Celebrate the tepee protest. Demonstration improves social justice

"The Constitution and the Charter of Rights doesn't grant you rights; you have rights, and we need to do a better job of reflecting those rights in everything the government does," he told the four protesters. "You don't have a right to government housing and subsidy; you have a right to be free, to be determined, to pick your future and that's where we need to go to."

Protester Candace Day Neveau of the "reoccupation" movement responded that her group will continue its fight to abolish the Indian Act. "We are always going to be applying pressure, we're going to be here and we're not going to back down."

Emerging after a 30-minute chat with four native-rights activists on Friday, the Trudeaus returned to their original plans. In front of a small group of onlookers on soggy grounds, they rehearsed their lines ahead of Saturday's sesquicentennial show on the Hill.

"One hundred and fifty years is a long time," Mr. Trudeau said. "I don't want anyone to think that our best years are behind us. We've got so much to look forward to, and so many more things to accomplish together."

As the tepee protest clearly showed, Canada's immediate future includes dealing with the aftermath of decades of mistreatment of First Nations and indifference toward basic needs and long-standing demands.

"We are pro-liberating Indigenous people and exerting our inherent right," Ms. Day Neveau said after her meeting with Mr. Trudeau. "We have our sovereignty and we need access to our lands. We need our land back and that is what we are here to reclaim."

Story continues below advertisement

The protesters were aware that nothing concrete was immediately achieved. Still, the fact they managed to set up at least one tepee on the Hill was a clear victory. Security has never been tighter for a Canada Day party on the Hill, and despite an initial police crackdown, they successfully set themselves up at the feet of the Peace Tower and saw their message reverberate across the country.

"I'm not sure the objective was to meet the Prime Minister. The objective was to assert ourselves on Algonquin territory," protester Ashley Courchene added.

Preparations for the country's 2017 bash have been in the works since the start of the decade under the previous Conservative government. The Liberal government took over in 2015, using the $200-million budget to spur a mix of community parties and grandiose celebrations all year long.

In recent weeks, the government has held festivities to honour aboriginals, francophones and the country's multicultural heritage. As called for by tradition, the celebrations will peak on July 1, when Mr. Trudeau, Prince Charles and Governor-General David Johnston will gather on Parliament Hill for a televised event.

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly insisted the native protest on Parliament Hill was a welcomed addition to the event.

"Since I took over the project, we have been doing everything we could to offer aboriginal perspectives and to be able to have discussions on some of the darker chapters, the very dark chapters, of the last 150 years, at the same time as we are looking forward and celebrating with optimism," Ms. Joly said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

There will be 1,000 performances across the country over the Canada Day long weekend in communities big and small, including the traditional fireworks in Ottawa that will be bigger than ever. While there has been some criticism of the invitation that was extended to rock stars Bono and the Edge, Ms. Joly said it showcases Canada's growing role internationally. The U2 band members waived any performance fees to appear at Saturday's event.

"It speaks to Canada's impact in the world and we are proud of the positive role that we are playing since we re-engaged with multilateral institutions," Ms. Joly said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter